Baton Rouge police reckon with mounting allegations of misconduct and abuse

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(BATON ROUGE, La.) — The Baton Rouge Police Department announced charges against four police officers in the Street Crimes Unit that stemmed from a separate incident other than the allegations levied against officers in the unit last week.

“Today, you’re going to hear about accountability,” Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said on Friday. He encouraged citizens to go the FBI with any complaints about the unit.

The officers, including one high ranking deputy, were all booked Thursday night, stemming from an incident that occurred in September 2020.

The police chief said a male subject had been under arrest and officers on the unit allegedly attempted to strip search the individual in the bathroom. In order to subdue the suspect, officers had to deploy a taser which triggered the body cameras of the officers.

“The officers didn’t realize that the body camera was on until after the incident. An officer was then directed by his supervisor to show them what was recorded on the body camera,” according to Paul. “According to our investigation, we learned that a supervisor believed that the contents of that video were violations of our policy and excessive use of force and then directed an officer to get rid of the body camera so that the evidence could not be downloaded in the docking station.”

A plan was then allegedly devised by the officers to get rid of the footage, the chief said.

Deputy Chief Troy Lawrence Sr, Jesse Barcelona, Todd Thomas, and Doug Chutz, all former officers and members of the department, were charged.

The Street Crimes Unit has faced scrutiny in recent weeks after allegations of mistreatment of detainees, including at a now-shuttered police warehouse that officers allegedly called the “Brave Cave,” according to complaints made against the department.

The charges against the four officers, however, are not related to the “Brave Cave” case.

The FBI announced over the weekend they are investigating the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) following allegations that some officers “abused their authority.”

The New Orleans FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana have opened the probe, with investigators “reviewing the matter for potential federal violations,” the FBI New Orleans said in a statement, while urging anyone with information on the case to contact them.

The department’s police chief reported the allegations about the warehouse to the FBI, a source familiar with the investigation said Tuesday.

At a tense Baton Rouge City Council meeting on Wednesday, Paul said that in past incidents he has looked to hold police officers who don’t follow the law accountable.

The chief also apologized to the community for a passionate speech at the city council meeting Wednesday night.

“I do understand that my delivery yesterday during the City Council meeting may not have represented to some my role as a leader, but I do not apologize for standing up for what is right,” the police chief said. “Although my passion may have offended some. That was not my intention. Please understand that my passion comes from my connection to the city and wanting to see it win.”

The chief said he couldn’t get into any more details about the charges he announced today or the “Brave Cave” allegations, because of the ongoing nature of the investigations.

“I have concern that this investigation required some federal independent oversight based on some of the things I learned early on,” he said.

The mayor also offered a full-throated defense of the police chief and highlighted how he has improved the department and drove down homicide rates all while doing it in a challenging political environment.

“We have been effective in holding criminals accountable in this city because of our strategies and Chief Paul’s leadership.” Mayor Sharon Broome said. “We have made significant investments in the Baton Rouge Police Department, which have resulted in a higher pay for our officers and now nearly two straight years of double-digit reduction in homicides and nonfatal shootings.”

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